The trendiness of hymns

Last night, like a good husband, I sat through a show I’m not a fan of… three shows actually… the Tuesday night prime time line up is pretty awful as far as I’m concerned.  But the one that’s relevant for this post is the nbc show Parenthood (loosely based on the 1989 film starring Steve Martin and Rick Moranis, with roles for young Keannu Reeves and Joaquin Phoenix).  Anywho, the point is I was struck by the use of music in the final scene- a recent rendition of the hymn It Is Well, performed by Daniel Martin Moore (a Kentucky based sub pop records artist, who does an interesting jazz-bluegrass-gospel fusion).  You can check out the song on youtube here.  I kinda like it.

But the point is that I found it odd that this prime time program would choose a hymn as background music for their show.  The scene featured parents worrying about their unborn child, as their previous child has asperger syndrome.   But this is an odd example of gospel music being used in secular forum.  I am not at all opposed to it, just found it interesting.  Much like the use of Hallelujah in the film Shrek.  In both cases the mood of the song musically fits the mood of the movie, but lyrically, it may not make so much sense.  The first verse of It Is Well certainly made sense, but if you look at the following verses, it breaks down a bit.  Although the first verse is about finding peace in the midst of troubles, ultimately it is in the hope of victory in Christ which brings makes that peace possible.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is well with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

It is well with my soul
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Was nailed trough his cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

It is well with my soul
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

I am certainly glad that there is a seed of the gospel in the midst of secular culture, but I wonder if that gets through, or is it simply “background noise”?  A song like this is not meant to be background noise.  So is there an ethical issue at play when scripture, worship songs, creed or anything else brought together for the glory of God is used for other motives?  I’m sure some would say absolutely.  Are there truly sacred spaces, sacred cultural creations, sacred books, etc. which are “off limits”?  Should Christians get offended when pop culture “high-jacks” what we designed for ourselves?  Is the use of a hymn in a television show on equal ground with a hip-hop video dancer wearing almost nothing besides the cross around her neck, or even worse, when atheist regimes burn bibles and church buildings?  Obviously the systematic persecution of Christians and the destruction of Scripture and places of worship strike with a greater magnitude.  And ultimately I have to conclude that realistically the two are not even in the same category.  Many hymn writers took folk songs which were often sung in taverns and reused the melodies for hymns.  As God continues to work in our world, having the gospel introduced into something which lacks the gospel is not a bad thing at all.  The point of the song may have been lost on the audience of Parenthood, but that doesn’t mean it was profaned, necessarily.

More on this train of thought to come, I’m sure.

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